Are You Throwing Your Employees Under the Bus? [Case Study]

A Case Study on Improving The Customer Experience (CX) at the Risk of The Employee Experience (EX)

What is an organization’s greatest asset? Is it the product, equipment, customers or employees? In this case study we examine how the Chicago Transit Authority sought to improve its Customer Experience while failing to focus on its Employee Experience.

In 2013, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) spent $454 million to transition its 1.7 million daily riders from its own proprietary fare collection system to a third-party system owned and developed by a company called Ventra. But rather than saving money and time, the CTA only succeeded in enraging tens of thousands of Chicagoans.

The CTA’s mistake was that it focused on improving its Customer Experience by increasing efficiency but did so without taking into account its employees—you know, the people who best knew its customers’ behavior, who knew that they were happy with the current system, and who would be on the front lines of customer anger and frustration. It was a costly miscalculation.

For example, buses were redesigned so that riders boarding through the front door would be automatically charged by electronic sensors as they passed by. No swiping cards—great, right? Sure, until you realize that on a crowded city bus, riders tend to use the fastest, most convenient exit. Unfortunately, the CTA didn’t talk to its bus drivers before installing the expensive system. If it had, it would have learned that many riders also exit through the front door. After the new system came online, many riders were inadvertently charged twice. Whoops.
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Technical problems plagued the new system, and the CTA dropped the ball by making customer service available only between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays. Since many people ride the trains and buses in the evenings and on weekends, this decision left huge swaths of time that passengers couldn’t get help from a real person. In some cases, the customer service issues were tragicomic, including the experience of one passenger who started getting email after email telling him his new Ventra card was on the way, followed by a blizzard of mail: 91 envelopes, each containing a new card. The comedy of errors didn’t stop there. “The next day, 176 more [cards] arrived, each one, he later discovered, canceling the last. ‘You have to call and activate it,’ the rider told Crain’s Chicago Business, ‘but I’ve been afraid to do that.’”

Eventually, the CTA had to go back to selling its former magnetic stripe cards while it figured out what went wrong, which was something its employees could have pointed out before the costly move to a new system. Meanwhile, as riders became more and more fed up and indignant, the agency threw its employees—pardon the pun—under the bus. In December 2013, one call center worker lost her job after the Chicago Tribune published a letter in which a frustrated customer recounted his repeated attempts to get a Ventra card. But customer support calls were routed to a call center in San Francisco, so call center workers had no firsthand knowledge of the city or the system. The sacked worker was merely the last service rep the customer had spoken to, and she had been working for eleven days straight. Nevertheless, she was sent packing—on her birthday—for “bringing bad press to Ventra.”

The CTA’s greatest blunder wasn’t choosing faulty technology or dealing with incompetent partners to fix a system that wasn’t broken. It was failing to work with its greatest asset, its employees, to understand and improve its Customer Experience.

Learn more about how to manage your organization’s trust with its employees by picking up The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from The Employee Experience by Tracy Maylett and Matthew Wride. Copyright (c) 2017 by DecisionWise, LLC. All rights reserved.
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